The famous photograph “V-J Day in Times Square” was taken on August 14, 1945. With World War II finally over, New York went crazy in celebration. This whirlwind of a moment was captured in two, nearly identical, shots: the more famous from the renowned Albert Eisenstaedt, and a second one by a navy photographer named Lt. Victor Jorgensen.
With the iconic image as his inspiration, artist and philanthropist J. Seward Johnson saw a way to bring it to life in his own unique style. He produced a series of foam and urethane versions of the kissing couple called “Unconditional Surrender,” with one of them landing in San Diego’s Tuna Harbor Park in 2007.
The 25-foot sculptures, which Johnson produced in different materials and sizes, have withstood some aesthetic controversy, with many critics seeing the work more as “kitsch” than art. But their popularity won out, and they could been seen by approving crowds in many cities besides San Diego, including Sarasota, New York, Pearl Harbor, Civitavecchia, Italy and Caen, France.
While the majority of the installations have been temporary, San Diego fell in love with its couple, and when the foam version had run its course they decided to buy a permanent bronze. The million dollar price tag was raised quickly with donations to the USS Midway Museum, and the new statue was installed in 2013 at the Port of San Diego’s Greatest Generation Walk. The gargantuan aircraft carrier itself serves as its dramatic backdrop.
For his part, Johnson claims to have used the Jorgensen photo rather than the copyrighted Eisenstaedt to create the sculpture (you can see more of Johnson’s super-sized work here and here). In Tuna Harbor Park, at most times of day and night couples can be found under the statue doing their best to re-enact the fleeting kiss. Wait there long enough and you might catch a couple or two come by to renew their vows.